Instructional Leadership in Action

Teacher professional learning: A shift in beliefs is key to advancing access and equity for students.

by Joanna Michelson on Jun 17, 2019

Math-thats-open-to-everyoneWhat does transformative teacher professional learning look and sound like? This case example — which was written by my colleague Renee Gallagher and published in the May/June 2019 issue of NAESP's Principal magazine — illustrates how a shift in beliefs is key to advancing access and equity for students.

As Renee shows, classroom experiences that are truly transformative for students require adults to work and learn differently than they typically do. Yet, adult beliefs about student capabilities often stand in the way of getting better with teaching practice.

Renee's example focuses on math learning,  but the same principles apply to any subject-matter classroom.  When students are perceived as being less capable, the teaching they receive often reinforces learning as a passive and procedural experience, with teachers resorting to rote practices, overhelping  and eliminating choice. The resulting low levels of understanding, disempowered students, and "confirmed" perceptions on the part of educators set up a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious cycle of sorts. 

However, as Renee shows with CEL's work in schools, this vicious cycle can be broken with collaborative, side-by-side support in the classroom. When teachers and the people who support teachers — principals and instructional coaches — see and experience students succeeding in new ways based on changes in teaching practice, beliefs can change quite radically.

As you read the case example, ask yourself whether you or others in your school system have inadvertently fallen into the trap of low expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies in your beliefs about certain students and their ability to learn. 

We have added this case example to CEL's Leadership Guide for K-12 Teacher Professional Learning. Check out our other guide resources and don't hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss bringing CEL's support to your school or district.

Topics: Teacher Professional Learning

About the author: Joanna Michelson

Dr. Joanna Michelson is the director of teacher leadership and learning at the Center for Educational Leadership. She leads CEL's teacher professional learning line of services. She also provides direct support to lead teachers, coaches and school and district leaders in designing and setting conditions for teacher learning that lead to enriched learning experiences for all students. Prior to work at CEL, Dr. Michelson worked as a middle school language arts teacher, secondary literacy coach and as a consultant for CEL. She holds a doctoral degree from the College of Education at the University of Washington with a focus on coach learning from practice. Dr. Michelson is the co-author of "Leading for Professional Learning: What Successful Principals Do To Support Teaching Practice."

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